Board rejects latest bids for playground project

October 09, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County Board of Estimates has unanimously overruled an administrative decision to begin construction on 17 county and school playgrounds and ordered the project to be bid for the third time.

The board's decision Thursday to throw out the latest bids and hire a consultant on playground equipment before rebidding essentially scraps any chance of the equipment being installed before next spring.

In rejecting both bids under consideration for the quarter-million-dollar contract, the board overruled a Sept. 28 decision by Director of Administration Larry Klimovitz. He had ordered awarding the contract to Taylor Associates, the low bidder.

Mr. Klimovitz's decision followed several months of wrangling over which of two key bidders -- Taylor, a West Virginia-based firm, or West Recreation Inc., of Ellicott City -- should get the contract.

In the first round of bidding, which began last winter, the county procurement office awarded the contract to West, the second-low bidder. When Taylor, which had underbid West, complained, saying the project specifications hadn't been clearly defined, procurement officials threw out the bids, redrew the specifications and rebid the project.

In July, the county again chose West, even though its $261,278 bid was $25,000 higher than the one from Taylor, the only other bidder in the second round. Procurement officials said that the low bidder did not satisfy specifications on warranties and quality of hardware, and that the bid evaluation committee was concerned about the equipment's resistance to tampering.

Taylor appealed the award to Mr. Klimovitz, who held an administrative hearing Sept. 22. He filed an opinion a week later that said Taylor's proposed equipment was vandal-resistant enough and ordered the procurement office to award Taylor the contract.

"I took Mr. Klimovitz's recommendation to the Board [of Estimates], but the board chose not to support it," said John O'Neill, the county's director of procurement and an ex-officio member of the Board of Estimates, which must approve all county contracts of more than $25,000.

"We understand the problems, but we're not satisfied that the equipment from the low bidder meets specifications because we don't have enough information," he said of the board. "We aren't experts on playground equipment."

He said the Board of Estimates decided to throw out both bids, have the county hire an independent consultant "who does know about these things" and start the process again.

Besides the technical questions, the board also was bothered by a revelation during the administrative hearing that the latest bidding process had been "tainted," Mr. O'Neill said.

In judging the quality of the equipment proposed by one bidder, he noted, the evaluating committee had based its decision on information it solicited from West, Taylor's competitor.

"The committee was wrong to do that, but they did it because they didn't have the expertise to make those judgments," Mr. O'Neill said.

Had the board not thrown out both bids, he said, either loser would have had grounds for appeal, which would have delayed the project even longer.

"I'm very unhappy about this. I'm as upset as I'm sure many parents are about the delay," said Mr. O'Neill. "It's very frustrating, but there's no other way to go now but start over."

He said before the new bidding period is opened, the county will hire an expert -- likely an independent architect who designs playgrounds -- to help write "generic" specs and help evaluate the bids that are submitted. The purchasing agent and evaluating committee assigned to the project also will be new, he said.

In addition, Mr. O'Neill said the size of the rebid project will be increased by $75,000 to include an unspecified number of county sites budgeted for playground projects in 1994-1995.

The $250,000 contract had been for nine school sites and eight county parks that were to have been built in fiscal 1994, which ended June 30.

Mr. O'Neill said he did not expect the bidding to be reopened for at least a month, and said it would be early next year before a bid is awarded.

That would move equipment installation well into spring, he said.

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